Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Discussion with ALPHA Reader: The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

From the author's website:
Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything's broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

Several months ago, I read two reviews by Danielle at ALPHA Reader that piqued my interest: Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son, both by Melina Marchetta. (Her reviews are here and here)

I don't remember how it came about, but she sent me Saving Francesca, which I loved (my review here). I tried to get my hands on the follow-up, The Piper's Son, but it's not available in the US until March 2011, so Danielle graciously sent me her copy.

All I can say is: Wow, freakin' fantastic! I really liked The Piper's Son - I was so involved in Tom's life, it was hard to separate and put the book down. I had a few questions about the book, and they turned into a joint squeefest between Danielle and myself. Once we'd gone back and forth, we both realized how long it was - there is so much in this book to talk about!

Book Addict: First of all, I love the cover! I don't know why but it speaks to me. Also, the graphics at each chapter - I know it's superficial, but I feel like they emphasize how much of a mess Tom's life is. And he certainly is a mess. His mother and sister moved out b/c his father is an alcoholic. Then his father left. He's living in some crappy apartment with "not really" friends, until he comes home from an evening in the hospital and sees his stuff all over the lawn. He turns to his aunt for shelter.

ALPHA Reader: Funny you should mention the cover-art. . . Naomi over at inkcrush recently posted the Aussie/US cover comparisons and revealed that the cover is actually a photo of Australian musician, Pete Murray. It’s a cast-off photo from his album photo-shoot. And it’s quite funny because now that I think about it Pete Murrary is sort of how I pictured Tom. . . that very manly Aussie bloke, with a tender heart underneath it all. A lot of Pete Murrary’s songs could be a soundtrack to ‘The Piper’s Son’ too, like his song ‘So Beautiful’ (about Tara Finke?)

‘So Beautiful’ lyrics:
God my fingers burn,
Now when I think of touching your hair
You have changed so much that I don't know,
If I can call you, and tell you I care
And I would love to bring you down,
Plant your feet back on the ground

BA: Oh, wow, I checked out the covers and I definitely like the Aussie cover better! I’m not familiar with Pete Murray but looking at the pics I could see Tom as a young Pete Murray. And yes, that song totally fits his relationship with Tara.

BA: His Aunt Georgie is...I don't know what to say about her. On the one hand, she's a mess too. She can't get past the deaths of her brother and father. She can't get past the fact that her significant other had a fling while they were "on a break" that resulted in a child. She seems otherwise normal, but the relationship with Sam was painful to read.

AR: I was very sceptical about Georgie when I first started reading. Marchetta has never written from an ‘adult’ perspective, yet Georgia is 42 and I really didn’t know how she fit into a young adult book. . . I should really learn to have more faith in Ms. Marchetta. By the end of the book I was thinking that Georgie was an inspired and brilliant character. Yes, she’s 42, but she doesn’t have her life together. . . in fact, her life is as much in shambles as Tom’s. I think Georgie is a sort of sign-post for Marchetta’s young audience, a hint that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting wiser. . . and that’s okay. Mistakes are going to be made, it’s how you correct them that matters.

BA: I can tell you from reading this book as a 40-year-old woman that was one of the things I did like about how Georgie was written is that she wasn’t perfect and put together and had a wonderful life. My life is not like that and I resent when authors suggest that at some point in your 20’s everything just clicks and you get your HEA.

AR: I think both Tom and Georgie are living in the fallout of their mistakes. Georgia had a one-night-stand with her ex that resulted in her getting pregnant. At any time over the last few months she could have had an abortion, discussed adoption etc, etc. But instead Georgie just sort of lets things fester. She doesn’t broach the subject with her family or with Sam. She sort of hopes that ignoring the problem will make it go away until she’s eight-months along and has to start getting proactive and making decisions.

Tom, meanwhile, has pulled farther and farther away from his friends until he wakes up one day and realizes that he has all but lost them. He could have picked up the phone, or accepted their kindness, but instead he chose to ignore and distance himself. And when the book begins, he suddenly finds that he needs the support of those friends he let fall by the wayside.

BA: I was so surprised to read that he had pulled away from his friends. In Saving Francesca, the kids seemed to be there for each other, and I wanted to know where things had gone wrong.
I found lack of communication to be a constant through the book. I did find it a bit frustrating at times. Tom’s Mom/Dad, Tom/his Father, Georgie/Sam, Tom/Tara – come on people – talk to each other!!!

AR: The lack of communication and general ‘walking on eggshells’ was hard for me to read. I hate awkward silences, and given half a chance I will address the elephant in the room. . . but you’re right, this is a book full of what’s not said. And it’s made all the more frustrating because we get Tom and Georgie’s inner monologues, but never the satisfaction of having them *say* what they *think*. Grr! But to be honest, that’s more realistic. It’s actually very rare for people to wear their heart on their sleeve and deliver long, revealing diatribes. . . still, frustrating!

Both Georgie and Tom are procrastinators and avoiders, and Marchetta explores what happens to both of them when they have to wake up and take responsibility for their actions.

BA: This aspect of the story made me a bit crazy – I wanted to shake them both and say “open your eyes and your mouth and do something!”

AR: Georgie and Sam’s relationship was painful. I found myself squirming in my seat throughout their tension-filled scenes. Most of my discomfort was simply because Georgie *thought* things but never said them. Grr! Throughout the book Georgie wants to ask Sam about the woman he had an affair with. . . she wants to ask him if he wants their baby. But she doesn’t. Although, all that built-up tension made for a great release and monologue from Sam (page 275: “Ask me if getting you pregnant has felt like the best thing that’s happened to me since my son was born?”)

BA: Oh! That monologue from Sam brought tears to my eyes – it was so moving.

AR: As frustrating as Sam and Georgie were. . . I felt like Marchetta offered up a very rich and fulfilling storyline for them. Dare I say, Georgie could have had a book all to herself? I loved how complicated their history was – because Sam had a son from cheating on Georgie, he can’t offer her a completely honest “I’m sorry” and “I regret” for his cheating. Wow. That right there is enough emotional tension to fill a contemporary romance book! I sort of hope that Georgie’s presence in ‘Piper’s’ is an indication that Marchetta may go into adult books one day. . .

BA: Georgie was a little too passive for me to be in love with her; it seemed to me she let things happen instead of making them happen. I was frustrated by that.

BA: I don't know if this book was written with an Australian audience in mind or just set in Australia, either way, I loved it! Honestly, at first it felt a bit disjointed and I was wondering if it was actually set in England and I just thought it was set in Australia...I figured it out eventually :) I think that was because of the family obsession with his uncle's death. Tom's dead grandfather and uncle were a huge part of the story - the family didn't get a body back for either death and therefore didn't have real closure. I see in your review where their lives were turned into "before London" and "after London", and I can kind of relate to that, as here in N.O. things are "before Katrina" and "after Katrina".

AR: I think it’s great that you were unsure about the setting! Because that is a theme in all of Marchetta’s books – multiculturalism. Australia is a melting pot – it’s a cliché, but true. My family is Austrian and English, I’m third generation Aussie. Marchetta herself is proud of her Italian heritage. . . and in fact, her first novel ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ is all about a young girl coping with being third generation Italian and juggling her Nonna (grandma’s) traditions and her want to break free.

And then there’s the fact that Australian’s are prone to ‘walkabout’. We have such close ties to England that it’s very common for Aussie’s to take jobs in the UK and live there for a few years. We have so many English ex-pats living in Australia, and so many families were founded by ‘Ten Pound Poms’ (which refers to the influx of British people who moved to Australia after WWII. . . for the price of ten pounds passage). And that’s also why Australia was really rocked by the London bombings, because England is so much a part of us. . .

I think that’s a very true comparison between London and Katrina. I think Marchetta makes the point, throughout the book, that a nation is brought together by tragedy. . . in the past decade we’ve experienced such huge historic events and nations have banded together around them. Just look at the New Zealand mining disaster. . . it becomes a country’s mourning, a shared heartache. I loved that Marchetta explored that with both Vietnam and London, and illustrated the repercussions these historic events have on current generations.

BA: I didn't know any of that history about Australia. American's think of ourselves as living in the"Melting Pot", but I see that Australia is like that too.

BA: Back to Tom - I love him. Maybe because I'm the mother of a teenage son? I want to take him home with me and feed him and give him a stable home life. He's a good kid - evidenced by the fact that he takes the job at the Diner to pay for the money his roommates stole. He’s got a lot of issues to work though though; I was glad to see Frankie and Josephine (from Saving Francesca) in this book.

AR: I don’t know how she did it, but Marchetta kept Tom endearing. There were a few times there when he could have come across as an idiotic no-hoper. But I was always rooting for Tom. I always knew that he wasn’t living up to his potential and that there was a heart of gold underneath that slacker facade. I think it was his caring for Georgie, and his secret heartache for Tara Finke and the fact that you could see he was affected by his dad’s leaving and alcoholism, even when he tried to hide it. God love him, Tom was adorable.

BA: Tom is such a tarnished hero. I loved that even though he managed to get himself into a bad situation, he was able to accept help where it was offered, work hard even when he didn’t visualize a positive outcome, and come out on top.

BA: Tara Finke - what can I say about Tara? Aaaarrggghhh - I have a lot to say about her but can't find the words.

AR: I love that Tara didn’t take any of Tom’s crap. Yes, he was going through a hard time, but that didn’t excuse his behaviour towards her and his friends. . . and she never let him forget it. She kept him on his toes. You could see why he fell so hard for her, and why all those nameless one-night-stands couldn’t hold a candle to what he had with Tara. I also loved the way that Francesca kept feeding Tom information about Tara and her Brazilian boyfriend. LOL! Way to be a wing-woman, Francesca.

BA: You know, he kind of had her on a pedestal, and until he realized that he was worthy of being loved he wasn’t ready for her. Unlike his family, Tara made him express himself and I love her for that. The e-mails back and forth were wonderful, as Tom opened up more and let her see inside himself. And yes, even though Tom kept messing with Francesca and Will, Francesca didn’t lose faith and was an awesome wing-woman!

BA: The Piper’s Son was dark at the beginning but as Tom worked through things it got lighter, more witty and hopeful.

AR: I think of that Stereophonics album, ‘You Gotta Go There to Come Back’. That’s what Marchetta does with ‘Piper’s Son’ – she goes to the dark places, she lets her characters hit rock bottom. . . so that their redemption is all the sweeter. She is master at this, and I love her for it.

BA: Oh, yes, I noted that the Piper's Son was a reference to Tom's dad's gift of oration. I have mixed feelings on that. I didn't care for his dad much.

AR: I appreciated that his dad was like Tom and Georgie, in that he had made mistakes and when we meet him he is living in the fall-out and trying to regroup. But it was frustrating. . . my heart broke when Tom went to the AA meeting, and learnt of the trigger that made his dad get sober (he couldn’t remember Tom’s name when a stranger asked him who was in the picture in his wallet. OMIGOD! I cried so hard!).

BA: See, whether Tom forgives his father or not, I couldn’t forgive him. I think that’s a testament to Ms. Marchetta’s superb writing that she brings out such strong reactions in me as a reader.

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Candlewick
U.S. Release Date: March 8, 2011
ISBN-10: 0763647586
ISBN-13: 978-0763647582

Thank you Danielle for stopping by, and also for introducing me to Ms. Marchetta's work - she's a fabulous writer and I'm looking forward to reading more!

My Rating:


  1. Arghh, did it disappear? Sigh.

    Short version: Cool joint review talk, perhaps perhaps

  2. **SQUEEEEEE**

    Thanks for the mutual squee-fest!

    Wow. We had a lot to say!

  3. Blodeuedd: I definitely recommend it!

    Danielle: LOL, we sure did have a lot to say :) Thank YOU!

  4. two of my fave bloggers doing a review together?? AWESOME!

    I have to stop buying books for a while, but I;ll def add these to my wishlist, it sounds amazing! =D

  5. Fantastic review. I really liked reading both of your thoughts. This book does sound great; it is going on my list.

    Should Saving Francesca be read before reading this one?

  6. Larissa: Thanks, it was fun and such an awesome book to squee about :)

    ibeeeg: It's a great book - you can read it alone, but Saving Francesca is such a wonderful read I'd highly recommend it too. This book takes place a few years after Saving Francesca, so you get a more well-rounded view of the characters.